3 firefighters sustain minor injuries in Calif. apt fire

Fire officials found several disabled smoke alarms

The Times-Standard

EUREKA, Calif. — Fire officials said today that the cause of a fire that destroyedfour apartments in Arcata on Saturday is still under investigation — but they discovered numerous smoke alarms had been disabled.

A press release from the Arcata Fire Protection District states firefighters responded to a reported structure fire in a multi-family apartment complex in the Valley East area at 10:43 a.m. Saturday. Dispatch received the first of many 911 calls from residents and neighbors stating that the Park View Apartments on Hallen Drive were on fire, and the fire was already well involved with heavy, thick black smoke coming from one apartment unit.

Battalion 8203 arrived at the scene within five minutes and reported heavy fire conditions in one unit with flames spreading to adjoining units, the release said. Engines 8215 and 8217 arrived less than eight minutes after the first 911 report was received. Crews began an aggressive fire attack in an attempt to search for occupants and hold the fire to the involved unit. Within minutes, the firefighters inside of the burning structure had to retreat because of a partial roof collapse in the main fire unit.

The release said engine E8215, from the Mad River fire station, wascompleting a fire safety inspection of a similar multi-family occupancy on South G Street when the alarm came in. The crew from E8215 reported heavy, black smoke was visible from their location.

The fire had a significant head start on fire crews, the release said, which allowed the fire to spread into the attic and made extinguishing it difficult. Interior firefighting crews reported thick smoke conditions and high heat inside of the burning apartment. Fire crews had to discontinue their interior operations when the roof of the main fire unit collapsed. They switched to a defensive firefight and then transitioned back to an offensive attack after re-evaluating the structure for safety.

One occupant sustained burns to his arms and face and was flown to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento for treatment of his injuries. An updated report indicates the victim's injuries are notlife-threatening and a full recovery is expected, the release said. One firefighter sustained heat exhaustion while fighting the blaze and two others sustained minor injuries.

The release said a total of 41 career and volunteer firefighters and two support personnel fought the blaze for approximately two hours before gaining control and containing the fire. Humboldt Bay Fire, Blue Lake Fire Department, Fieldbrook Volunteer Fire Department, Westhaven Volunteer Fire Department and the Arcata Police Department assisted in the event.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. The release said there is no indication of the building being used for illegal drug activity, as indicated in some reports. During the investigation, fire crews discovered numerous smoke alarms had been disabled with batteries disconnected. This may have contributed to the fire growth and delayed report.

Arcata Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Sean Campbell said it is imperative that smoke alarms not be disabled at any time as they are designed to detect fire in the early stages. He said the estimated loss on the structure is $505,697 and the content loss isestimated at $303,418, according to the release.

Campbell said he hopes the rest of the community can learn from this tragic event.

"Hopefully our community learns two things from this incident; first, smoke alarms should never be disabled and they need to be checked for proper operation at least once a month and second, renters insurance costs approximately $0.32 per day. It is money well spent," Campbell said in the release.

The Humboldt County chapter of the American Red Cross assisted the eight tenants who were displaced by the fire. 

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